Our Savage Nation
At 6:00 pm last Friday, in Yonkers, NY, a 67-year-old woman of Asian descent was pushing a shopping cart, about to enter her apartment building vestibule. She encountered a man who shouted an anti-Asian, misogynistic slur. She ignored him. But he followed her and as she was unlocking a door moment later, the man hit her in the head viciously, knocking her to the ground. He then descended upon her defenseless body and in a sickening assault, ruthlessly beat her with both hands more than 125 times. Finally, he stomped on the poor woman seven times and spit on her before walking away.
Every time I read about a new racial attack or hate crime, I sink a little inside — first, I’m sad on behalf of the victim — but second, because I know that it means we are failing as a society. It’s even more telling when a crowd of bystanders do nothing to prevent or stop the crime. Any culture that manifests these types of racially-motivated crimes is not on the upswing; rather, it is a community or even a nation in decline. At scale, when we see a whole population harmed or killed as we are seeing in Ukraine, it is a clear indication of a civilization in decline.
In New York city alone, Anti-Asian violence in the city has soared during the pandemic. The police recorded 131 bias incidents against Asians in 2021, up from 28 in 2020 and just three in 2019. From March 19, 2020 to September 30, 2021, a total of 10,370 hate incidents against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) persons were reported to Stop AAPI Hate.
One in five Asian Americans (21.2 percent) and Pacific Islanders (20.0 percent) have experienced a hate incident the past year. Nationally, this translates to an estimated 4.8 million Asian Americans and 320,000 Pacific Islanders. Read that again and think about it: Nearly 5 million people in the U.S. of Asian and Pacific Island descent have experienced a racial slur or expression of hate in the last year because of their identity.
On March 2, media outlets reported that a 28-year-old man was arrested and charged with hate crimes in connection with a two-hour spree of attacks on women of Asian descent in Manhattan. It was just one more example of a concerning, especially grim trend of violence against Asian Americans.
When I began ScientificBrands, I worked with consultants to plan our business strategy. I wanted to determine what types of social causes and science-based organizations we would serve. Things like climate, access to proper healthcare, disease prevention, hunger and poverty, and mental health were clear issues that need attention in the world today. But I wondered about injustices and inequities, and whether social science and data about civic life would fall under our umbrella of work.
The U.S. has a long history of racial attacks and abuse, of course. Our country has for centuries extended and accepted preferential treatment through the lines of race and class. Campaigns of terror, led by extremist groups, individuals, the police and even government have been the standard, not an exception.
It had seemed reasonable, however, to believe that we were making linear progress toward something better — some higher ideal — a sustainably compassionate and more gentle national identity. Actually, I now fear the opposite is true. Though the many reports of young Black lives taken at the hands of police, extremists and vigilantes, paired with the increase in hate crimes against people of AAPI descent and more, it is clear that we are in the process of a collective cultural regression.
Authoritarianism is on the rise globally; humanity is losing the fight. And the victims are, by and large, elders, women, and young people. Further, the damage doesn’t start and end with a physical attack. The mental anguish and resulting anxiety and depression that results from systemic abuse in these communities has gone largely unacknowledged.
If my hope has been to improve the world through dedicating myself to telling the stories of science organizations and fostering whole movements to leave a positive impact, it would be difficult to ignore racial hate, bias and abuse that is rampant and increasing in U.S. society. That goes for any person or community of color, whether it’s Asian and Pacific Islander, Latin, Black, Indian, Indigenous, or other heritage — not to mention LGBTQ+ communities and anyone, of any gender identity, under this type of policy oppression and public abuse.
The data bears out one significant, harsh reality: We are a nation of people lacking education, understanding and empathy, all character traits that would be fostered by greater exposure and integration. Even many of our leaders are advocating repressive laws and encouraging intolerance in their positions, speeches and language. In doing so, they validate, cultivate and encourage our new savage national identity.
Patricia Park wrote in The New York Times last week that she is tired of how Asians in this country are treated — pushed around literally and figuratively. She wrote, “This is why I’ve decided I’m done being your model minority. We’re starting to push back.”
God bless her. I applaud her guest essay and want to know where to sign up. I’ve also waited long enough for our society to usher in a new era of civility. Just maybe, what is needed now is less patience and more accountability and activism to fight the torrent of hate.
But also, I’ll try to remember to take one small decent action each day. I can support minority businesses. I can try to encourage, help and inspire others. If I see someone under attack, I will muster the courage to step up.
Imagine the world and your community if every single person determined to be more mindful of those who simply appear different. What if we asked ourselves the hard questions first? Are they truly so different, or am I rendering judgment unnecessarily, possibly based on biases from the past? What if we all looked within, to challenge ourselves to try to be better? What if we all made fairness, kindness and respect for all people of color and LGBTQ+ a priority in our daily routines?
What a world that might be.